Were the UN Millennium Development Goals a success?



In September 2000, the United Nations adopted the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as its primary strategy for international development.  The MDGs synthesized the various declarations and targets from the numerous international summits and conferences held during the 1990s, and consisted of eight goals which were to be achieved by 2015 (see Box 1).










The MDGs marked a policy shift within international development because taken together the goals formed a universal framework for pursuing development and eradicating extreme poverty.  In other words, the MDGs constituted a concerted attempt by the international community to define the aims and purpose of development (Hopper, 2012).  Indeed, the MDGs have been followed by the formation and pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Cumulatively, these policy goals have established a global strategy for development for the period 2000-2030, absorbing a vast amount of financial and human resources in the process.

However, what is less clear is the effectiveness of this approach.  In particular, what impact is this type of unitary global policy formation having on developing societies?  To what extent, if at all, are local models and indigenous practices informing the universal goals and targets? How reliable is the data that is informing this policy approach?  And what affect is the international pursuit and prioritization of global development goals having on other areas within development?

The value of goal-orientated policy-making for international development therefore merits further investigation.  In this regard, nearly a year after the completion of the time-scale for the MDGs, it is now appropriate and possible to reflect on whether or not they were a success.  Intriguingly the international community moved swiftly from the MDGs to focusing on the SDGs with seemingly relatively little analysis and public discussion of the effectiveness and record of the MDGs.

Any critical evaluation of the MDGs will have to undertake an assessment of their track record but also consider a number of broader questions, such as the following:

Who decided on the goals and their associated targets?

Why were issues like governance, peace and security, the nature and quality of urban life, and human rights omitted from the list?

How inclusive were the processes in formulating these goals? (Tran, 2012)

Why did the MDGs consist of eight goals?

How much did the pursuit of the MDGs actually cost? Where did the funding come from?

Why were some goals achieved and others not?

Was the time frame for achieving such ambitious goals realistic?

How effective were the UN’s monitoring systems and data-collection processes for determining the progress of the MDGs?

For answers to these questions and a more detailed analysis of the UN Millennium Development Goals, see the forthcoming FPO policy note entitled – ‘A critical evaluation of the UN Millennium Development Goals’ – which can be found on the publications page of this website from Monday 29th August, 2016.


Hopper, P. (2012), Understanding Development: issues and debates, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Tran, M. (2012), ‘Mark Malloch-Brown: developing the MDGs was a bit like nuclear fusion’The Guardian, 16/11/12,


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